Editors' pick

Is Anybody There?

Is Anybody There? movie poster
MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama
In 1980s England, a young boy living in an old people's home run by his parents, meets a retired magician (Michael Caine), and the two become fast friends.
Starring: Michael Caine, David Morrissey, Bill Milner
Director: John Crowley
Running time: 1:34

Editorial Review

Bill Milner is about as perfect a specimen of English boyhood to appear on screen since Daniel Radcliffe first donned his wizard robe as Harry Potter eight years ago. Milner has a thick shock of hair, wide-open eyes, innocence laid on with a trowel, and he can act, too. As Edward in the sweet if not terribly innovative "Is Anybody There?," Milner plays a boy who lives in a rambling house in a green, leafy corner of England.

But he has a dark side, and it's no wonder. Edward's mother (Anne-Marie Duff) runs Lark Hall, a small retirement home where death is an everyday occurrence. Edward has been displaced from his own room to make space for the elderly boarders, and his resentment seems to take the form of a morbid fascination with life's final chapter. He pursues the topic with all the rigor of a paranormal expert on reality television.

Enter Michael Caine as Clarence, a former magician who is getting a little dotty and definitely should not be behind the wheel of a car. Caine's performance redeems any cliches that crop up here and there in Peter Harness's otherwise sharp and often mordantly funny script. Clarence sets out to divert Edward's attention from the morbid side of life, and the two eventually forge a brief friendship. But there's a reason Clarence is in an old-folks home, and no friendship can last forever.

Caine is magnificent, and the film is worth a look for his contribution alone. But Milner is a promising actor, too, and the pairing of young and old is believable and occasionally very moving. Director John Crowley seems to know he has a strong hand, and he doesn't force the film beyond its limited but worthy goal to charm and divert.

-- Philip Kennicott (May 1, 2009)

Contains language, including sexual references, and disturbing images.